her off the plank and call the next applicant in.â Some of the pirates chortled approvingly.
Jasper led Hilary inside the ramshackle house, which smelled not unpleasantly of seaweed and leather. The front door opened directly into what Hilary guessed was a sitting room, although it did not look at all like any other sitting room sheâd ever seen. Instead of chairs or velvet couches, a few well-worn rope hammocks hung from hooks drilled into the rafters. Standing in for a table was an old wooden box that looked suspiciously like a treasure chest. The roomâs only decoration was a gleaming wire cage containing a small bright-green bird. The bird croaked grumpily when it saw Hilary.
âWelcome to my salon,â said Jasper. âCan I get you anything? Grog?â
âNo, thank you.â Grog at ten oâclock in the morningâMiss Greyson would have been horrified.
âJust for me, then.â Jasper picked up a mug and took a long sip. âPlease take a seat, any seat.â
Hilary balanced herself in the hammock farthest away from the bird. âI thought your advertisement said parrots werenât allowed.â
âAh, but Fitzwilliam here is a budgerigar. Thatâs a very special kind of parrot, and a parrot for which I make exceptions.â Jasper removed his hat and started to untie his mask. âBesides, Fitzwilliam himself insisted on the no-parrot rule. He simply canât abide competition.â He laid his hat and mask on the floor and looked up at Hilary. âItâs a pleasure to see you again, by the way. And I must apologizeâwhen last we met, Iâm afraid I was in a bit of a hurry.â
Hilary nearly fell out of her hammock. There, across from her, sat Mr. Smith. He looked quite different without the tailcoat, but now that his mask no longer hid half his face, there could be no mistaking it: he was the very same elegant gentleman sheâd met on the train.
âIâm sorry, Mr. Smith,â she said, once sheâd caught her breath. âI didnât recognize you.â
âThatâs the whole idea behind a disguise,â said Jasper. âThe name was a disguise, too, Iâm afraid. Iâm really Jasper Fletcher.â
âAnd youâre really a pirate?â
âNaturally.â Jasper grinned, flipped a gold coin out of his hand, and caught it again. âEven pirates must travel by train every so often, Iâm sorry to say.â
Of course. No wonder heâd been wandering the train corridors looking for magic to stealâand no wonder heâd dashed away when the queenâs inspectors had arrived. Being unscrupulous was all part of his profession.
âNow,â said Jasper, âI believe itâs my turn to ask a question. Who are you?â
âIâm Hilary,â said Hilary. Should she have given herself some sort of fancy pirate nickname? The way things had gone for Cannonball Jack, it was probably safest to keep things simple.
Jasper pulled out a notepad and started scribbling. âAnd do you have a last name, Hilary?â
Hilary opened her mouth, then closed it again. The navy and the pirate league were not on good terms, and Jasper Fletcher could hardly be expected to hire the admiralâs daughter for his crew. He might be more inclined to take her hostage, and she would almost prefer Miss Pimmâs to that.
âSmith,â she said. âMy last name is Smith.â
Jasper smiled. âVery well; thatâs a game I can appreciate.â He looked up. âAh, hereâs my first mate. Perhaps heâd like to ask you some questions as well. Charlie, come and join us.â
The boy from the train hesitated in the doorway. He wore torn-up work clothes splattered with paint, and he held a half-eaten cinnamon bun in one hand. âThatâs that finishing-school girl,â he said, pointing the cinnamon bun at Hilary. âWhatâs she doing